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Archive for the ‘Modern & Historical Art’ Category

Paris – Versailles

Posted in Europe, Modern & Historical Art  by admin on November 23rd, 2009

As you approach the gates of Versailles you inescapably have the feeling of entering not a palace but an entire city. The impression is justified given the massive scale of the building and the even larger grounds.

Beginning as a modest château of stone and slate to serve as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII (13th), Versailles blossomed – figuratively and literally – during the reign of his son. By 1682, after 20 years of work, the ‘Sun King’ took up residence… and then building really began.

At its height the grounds covered 1,800 acres and housed over 1,500 fountains besides the enormous palace. Around 300 remain today. Around the grounds are several distinct gardens. Watered by a system only part of which were 150km (90mi) of canals, the gardens and fountains are themselves a show on Sundays.

Covering 250 acres, the gardens were designed mostly between 1661 and 1700 and continue to amaze visitors. Be sure not to miss the large Fountain of Apollo, with the sun god driving a chariot of horses out of the surface.

Also on the grounds are huge stables. Closed to the public for almost 200 years, they were originally home to 600 horses owned by Louis XIV (14th). Now home to 20 Portuguese Lusitanian horses, the indoor arena is decorated with a sculpture and drawings of which the Sun King himself would have been proud.

Visitors can enjoy a directed tour of the stables and watch a morning dressage with costumed riders. (‘Dressage’, French for ‘training’, is a standard equestrian term. It means, roughly: training horses to move in complex patterns similar to a dance.)

But, of course, it is the château itself that forms the (literal and symbolic) center of the place. With 700 rooms no single visit could encompass more than a small percentage of the total.

Thousands of nobles and their servants lived here in the late 17th century, as Louis managed his government with tight reins within the palace gates. Which were always left open, interestingly, in order to give a sense that the palace was ‘owned by the people of France’.

Throughout the château are paintings, sculptures, wall hangings and structural elements drawn from all over Europe.

One of the main attractions, justly so, is the 73m (239ft) long La Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors). Bearing no resemblance to a fun-house, the high mirrors line the walls on one side with seventy windows open to the gardens on the other. Still impressive, the mirrors were the latest technology of the time and awed even jaded visitors. Set off by Corinthian pillars of green marble, the room (which once hosted many a formal dance) still dazzles.

Viewed by thousands of visitors daily, the château can be quite hot and stuffy in the summer, even outdoors. Dress appropriately. The grounds and palace are open year round and can be reached via the RER line C: Versailles – Rive Gauche.

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History and Attractions of Boston Common

Posted in Modern & Historical Art, Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on November 10th, 2009

Boston Common is the oldest city park in the United States. The eccentric William Blaxton settled the land, all alone with his books, in the 1620s. In 1634 he sold the land to English Puritan colonists for use as a shared cow and sheep pasture. Each household contributed six shillings to the purchase. Eventually, the land was also used for military training, sometimes by colonists and sometimes by their British occupiers. Until 1817, the land was Boston’s site for public hangings. Livestock grazing was banned in 1830.

In modern times, Boston Common serves mainly as a recreation center. It anchors Boston’s “Emerald Necklace”, a chain of parks that runs about seven miles through the city. The park itself measures about forty-four acres.As one of the nation’s oldest landmarks, Boston Common has become rich with items of historical interest. The park is home to the Central Burying Ground, one of Boston’s first
graveyards. Among those buried there are choral composer William Billings, portrait artist Gilbert Stuart, and many casualties of the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Unfortunately, the subway tunneling of 1894 disturbed more than 900 (perhaps 2,000) of the cemetery’s deceased residents! They were later reburied, and a tablet marks the location of the event.

Several monuments can be spotted throughout the Common. The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, for example, is a Civil War monument honoring the first free black regiment in the Union Army. (Shaw commanded the all-volunteer regiment and is depicted in the Hollywood film “Glory”.) Another impressive Civil War sculpture is The Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Located atop the Common’s Flagstaff Hill, this neoclassical work of art rises an impressive 126 feet. Elsewhere, in the park’s Parkman Plaza, statues pay homage to the ideals of Industry, Learning, and Religion.With so many acres of green space, the park has hosted many large public events. In 1713 a public riot broke out in response to a food shortage. Two hundred people were present, and the lieutenant governor was shot during the chaos. A century and half later, in 1969, a Vietnam protest drew 100,000 people. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope John Paul II also drew large crowds for their speeches. The park’s Parkman Bandstand holds smaller crowds for plays and concerts.

Boston Common is full of longstanding attractions for people of all ages. The Public Garden was established in 1837 as the nation’s oldest botanical garden. Prior to that time, the land had been a salty swamp. The 24-acre garden is especially famous for its fleet of swan-shaped boats. Weather permitting, visitors ride the boats from spring through autumn.

The Frog Pond is another popular destination within the park. The Frog Pond is a popular children’s wading pool in the summer. During the brisk Boston winters, it freezes into an ice skating rink. When the Frog Pond first opened in 1848, school was closed for a day just so children could play in the fountain! Today the Tadpole Playground is adjacent.

Boston Common is flanked by other points of interest, such as: the Massachusetts State House, which stands to the north; Park Street Station – America’s first subway station – in the eastern corner; and Boylston Street Station – America’s second subway station – to the south. For those who prefer to walk, the Freedom Trail (a popular walking tour) also starts to the south of Boston Common at the Visitor Center.

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Paris – The Louvre

Posted in Europe, Modern & Historical Art  by admin on November 1st, 2009

Unquestionably the most famous name in the world of art museums, The Louvre largely deserves its renown. Enormous and filled with irreplaceable treasures from around the world, this premier series of exhibits offers something for everyone.

The building itself is something of an historical and art adventure. The construction of the original structures began as long ago as the 13th century, though the present museum has its origins in efforts of three hundred years later. The existing Château du Louvre, which forms a large portion of the floorspace, was begun in 1546.

The subject of sporadic expansion efforts for the next three hundred years, the only major alteration in recent times was the addition of a grotesquely inappropriate glass pyramid completed in 1989. The Crystal Pyramid forms the current entrance.

The change had one advantage in opening up the museum to large numbers of visitors more comfortably. Through the entrance and down an escalator the visitor enters a world of 6,000 years of every style and type of art known to man.

Within the museum walls are Egyptian sarcophagi, Persian and Greek artifacts, medieval and Renaissance paintings, 19th century classical and Romantic sculptures and a smattering of the latest forms. Some estimates run as high as 100,000 pieces, but in truth no one could know with certainty.

The museum itself is an eclectic collection of styles, the consequence of its many additions and changes over the centuries. Much too large to see in one day, the visitor is well-advised to pick a few favorite periods or countries and focus on them. Naturally, the best strategy is to opt for several visits but that may not be practical for most.

There are the pieces known even to those with little interest in art – the da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the marble Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace, the armless Venus de Milo. But there are works well-known to those with at least a passing acquaintance with painting – Delacroix’s Liberty Guiding the People, Vermeer’s Geographer or Lacemaker, Ingres’ The Bather, David’s Marat Mort.

Along with the more recognizable pieces there are literally thousands on display known only to experts or the most regular visitors. Most of the collection is in storage at any given time. Many of the walls are covered from floor to very high ceiling with paintings ranging from miniatures to 10m by 3m (33 feet by 10 ft) canvases.

And there are a lot of those walls. The floor space covers several thousand square meters and there are a dozen different major buildings including the Château and the Tulieres that have been joined by passageways over the centuries. The various parts are also on several different levels, many connected only by steps. Be prepared for an extensive walk.

Fortunately, there are benches scattered about and the steps in many places are lightly used, providing several places to rest. To take a breather and enjoy a sandwich before continuing, the exterior too provides several places to sit. Here you can enjoy the passing parade of people or the stationary Les Jardins Tulieres. (Jardins is French for garden)

Lines can be long for tickets. Best to buy a ticket in advance or purchase one of the many available multiple-tourist-site passes. The museum is easy to reach via the metro (subway). Exit at the Palais Royal or Louvre Rivoli stations.

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Mammoth Cave National Park

Posted in Modern & Historical Art, Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on July 21st, 2009

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky includes the most extensive cave system known in the world. More than 367 miles of cave passageways have been mapped, and there may be more miles still uncharted. The national park preserves this cave system along with Kentucky’s Green River Valley and the surrounding hills. Since becoming a national park in 1941, the area has also been designated a World Heritage Site and an international Biosphere Reserve.

Mammoth Cave started to develop 350 million years ago in a layer of limestone. Over 70 million years, water slowly dissolved the stone and left the extensive network of tunnels. Then a new layer of rock, sandstone, formed a stable roof for the tunnels. Different layers of tunnels were formed by the Ohio River during the Tertiary and Quaternary Periods. Most of the caves are now dry, but the lower level of tunnels continues to be carved by the Green River, which is 450 feet underground. It can be seen outside, where it emerges along the eastern border of the park. When the river floods, whirlpools swell back into the cave system; similar whirlpools formed the cave’s larger rooms millions of years ago.

Anthropologists believe that Native Americans first found the caves about four thousand years ago. Artifacts like torches, pottery, woven cloth and petroglyphs show that people explored the cave network for two thousand years. They likely lived at the entrances and mined the tunnels for salt, gypsum, mirabilite and other minerals.

Why did the natives leave the area? Nobody knows for certain, but a gruesome 20th century points clearly in one direction. In 1935, cave guides found the mummified remains of a gypsum miner. He’d been crushed by a 5-ton boulder! Park officials named him “Lost John”. Several other ancient bodies were preserved in Mammoth Cave, and most seem to have buried there on purpose. One mummy was sold to P. T. Barnum. Lost John was displayed until the 1970s, when he was given a proper burial.

White settlers first arrived in the 18th century. Miners starting taking saltpeter (potassium or calcium nitrate crystals) in 1792; it was used to make gunpowder. The saltpeter demand dwindled after the War of 1812, but word of the unusually large cave system spread. Mammoth Cave quickly became a tourist attraction. By 1816, crowds of people in formal attire chiseled their names and the date into the cave walls. (Nowadays, people are encouraged to wear sneakers, and the practice of leaving messages is forbidden.)

Under the direction of a slave-owner and prospector named Franklin Gorin, a 17-year-old slave named Stephen Bishop began charting much of the network in 1830. Bishop was praised for his genius in many areas, and he excelled in geology. He explored the caves for many years and was the first to cross the now-famous Bottomless Pit. This opened the cave to further exploration. In 1839 he found two rivers and their odd eyeless inhabitants. In 1840 he discovered Mammoth Dome, a 192-foot tall structure draped in stalactites. Stephen’s discoveries continued until his death in 1857

Today the National Park Service makes many tours available. These range from the hour-long Mammoth Passage Tour, which is less than a mile long, to the 6-hour Wild Cave Tour that passes through five miles of the cave network. Some tours are pre-lit, but others require tourists to carry a paraffin lamp. Photography and videotaping are allowed. The cave is always chilly, so visitors are advised to bring a warm layer of clothing.

Explorers might spot some of 130 rare animal species. These include bats, beetles, fish, and the endangered Kentucky cave shrimp. It is blind and albino; there is little need for sight or pigment in the depths of a cave. At least eleven other Mammoth Cave species are eyeless and unpigmented.

After the darkness of spelunking, cave visitors might enjoy catching sunlight along Mammoth Cave National Park’s 70 miles of trails. These are open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.

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